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Month: June, 2006

A little Walden

by Scott Smith

Transcendentalists veer to the melodramatic, however, this Thoreau quote has always appealed to me, and I think appropriate for my final days at the firm.

I learned this at least from my experiment; that if one advances
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the
life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in the
common hours. He will put some things behind him, will pass an invisible
boundary; new, universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish
themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded and
interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with
the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies
his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex and solitude
will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you
have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where
they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Walden, Henry David Thoreau


by Scott Smith

I’ve been picking black raspberries from some of the wilder areas of our property and freezing them. It’s not an activity that I recommend participating in while wearing shorts. rasberries001.jpg

I’m hoping that I can work up to enough for a batch of jam. Ahhhh, canning season.

The Oh So Fashionable Backyard Flock

by Scott Smith

Madonna with chickens

Before we moved to our little farm I never would have guessed how very fashionable it’s become to have a backyard flock. People from the city to suburbia and of course “country folks” all seem to be getting in on flock keeping. Even Madonna has been seen feeding her flock on the pages of Vogue Magazine (Aug. 2005). Mad City Chickens of Madison, Wisconsin got their local government to pass a law that allows residents to keep a small flock (four) birds in their backyard (they used to have to keep them in their house?). Informational websites are not all ugly Frontpage monstrosities slapped together in a hurry. There is Terry Golson’s elegantly slick, absolutely-hired-a-graphic-designer Chicken Keeping (can’t wait to add her book The Farmstead Egg Cookbook to my shelf). There are all kinds of little companies, like The Henspa or the cleverly named Omelet where you can buy a fashionable, premade domicile complete with chickens for a mere $900 in a variety of colors. But, if you really want to one up the Joneses, hire an architect. It’s the new thing.

Our chicken coop may not be the Ritz, but I’m still in fashionable company with the likes of Madonna in my keeping of chickens. I think I’ll slip on my Manolo Blahniks right now and go check on the girls.


by Scott Smith

What the heck are these ants doing? They’re coating a burdock plant with something that looks suspiciously like dirt. We have the world’s biggest ant hills on our property. I guess now they’re moving up?

Steel and Stone

by Scott Smith

Yesterday, my day began with knives. I sharpened my chef’s knife and paring knife on the stone and finished each with the steel. I owed it to the three chickens.

Beheading a chicken is not the proper way to kill a bird. E.B. White wrote about murders on his farm, including chickens being axed. From my Storey’s chicken book, the author wrote that using an ax made picking feathers more difficult.
I was to use the chef’s knife on the bird’s jugular, making a small cut below the jaw on both sides. The paring knife was then to be inserted into its mouth, blade side up, making a quarter turn to the right to de-brain it. De-braining was to make picking easier.

Robinson had isolated three birds — a barred rock (one of the hens that turned out to be a rooster) and two meat birds — in a wood and chicken wire playpen I had made a month or so ago to protect the meat birds from the older hens. Before killing a bird, you give it only water for about 24 hours.

I read the chicken book section on killing several more times. I finished watching an episode of Deadwood. I filled the gas can and the Jetta’s tank. I drove to the horse barn Robinson works at to make sure the right barred rock got killed.

In an area of the barn where goats were once milked, I nailed a 2×4 across two posts. I cut a length of rope and slip-knotted it around the 2×4. I set the knives, including a dull paring knife, on a ledge nearby.

After cutting the jugular and de-braining, the author wrote the bird would flap and squawk. One of her suggestions was using a killing cone, which, in the book, looked similar to a collar you fit on your dog to prevent him from licking a freshly sutured wound. A well fitted cone held the bird snugly, exposing the neck and head.

I finished preparing my work area with two storage containers: one for feathers and heads, the other for the picked chicken. Below the rope I placed an empty black bean can to collect blood. I smoked more cigarettes.

I pulled the barred rock out first, held it close to me. I wanted a calm chicken. Approaching the rope in the barn, I realized I didn’t have a good plan for tying the bird at its shanks without upsetting him (a stressed bird could ruin the meat). I held him by his feet and predictably, he squawked and flapped. I reassumed my grip on him, fixing his head in the crook of my arm and I tied the rope around his shanks. His breathing was raspy and small bubbles formed around his beak.

My first cut was tentative. I worried to much about the wings flapping that I had forgotten to pull down on his head. The next two cuts severed the jugular. I changed to the sharp paring knife and de-brained him. I held the bird still above the bean can.

I looked around for my smokes. Blood splatter. I remember reading Russell Bank’s The Darling, and the narrator, then living on a community farm, dressed in a protective outfit (rubber apron?) when she slaughtered chickens.

The chicken book author warned me about the mess.

The writer preferred to remove the head before plucking even though this wasn’t right — she didn’t explain why. She liked to start plucking with the wings.

I washed my hands and finished another smoke, and I thought: For my sins, I must pluck. A badly paraphrased line from Apocalypse Now.

Almost twenty years of office work and most of those mousing with my right hand, has made my hands weak and my right tends to cramp. The bird, still on the rope, I held with my right hand as I plucked with the left. I started grabbing at the feathers with no plan in place. When dry plucking, the bird has to be warm. It was. I used pliers; I used the dull paring knife; I wished I had tweezers.

The writer wrote that the record for plucking a chicken is five seconds. She took 15 minutes. Me, I think a half-hour had passed when I finished the bird off by severing its head.

I washed up again and fed and watered the pigs before grabbing the next bird.

Pig talk

by Scott Smith

  • Barrow is a castrate. We have two of these — sadly, they no longer do.
  • Gilt is a female under 18 months of age. We have two of these.
  • Shoat is a recently weaned pig.
  • A sow is a female who has had a litter of pigs.
  • A boar is an intact male.
  • A stag is an older male to be sold for slaughter (we have one of these — me).

Smart pigs?

by Scott Smith

I thought pigs were smart. Maybe not.

Pigs go in shelter

If they were really smart, they’d never trust anything I have built. My fear is two pigs will be sleeping under the shelter while the other two  play king of the mountain, then the roof collapses, crushing my pigs.

DIY – Pig House

by Scott Smith

Another weekend, more animal additions (four spring pigs), more DIY projects. I have built a pig house. It’s low to the ground, holds four pigs and cheap.

Pig House by Scott

My carpentry skills waffle between criminally negligent and child-like. Laura had insisted I buy extra lumber and that almost wasn’t enough, which means the chickens get more perches.
I’m sure there is a gene that allows you to eye-ball and imagine things, and then you build it or plan it. I’m missing that gene (I’m also missing the math gene that allows me to do fractions).

Pigs in Front of House
We have not witnessed the pigs go into the structure. They have climbed up its sides — with me, on the other side of the fence, cringing with each cloven hoof-fall, and yelling: “I don’t make sturdy things.”

Click here for proper out-building construction.

Death of a Pig

by Scott Smith

Mrs. Wu didn’t make it. She was very sleepy all day Friday and she felt cold once when I checked on her but she was eating so I adjusted her heat lamp and I thought she would be alright. I fed her one last time and then went out to eat with a friend and when I returned she was gone. We wrapped her in straw and buried her under a tree by the barn this morning.



by Scott Smith

Since I’m hoping to sell some eggs from our farm I jumped at the chance to get some free birds that are already laying. This is what my little Cr-v looked like last night (we dropped them off at home before we picked up the pizza):



And, oh happy day, we got our first eggs today.